Document Type

Article

Publication Date

11-2010

Abstract

Twenty years ago, after the calamitous Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, the pervasive systemic flaws—that according to the Alaska Oil Spill Commission had made a major calamity not just possible but probable—were largely cloaked behind the figure of a captain with a drinking problem. In 2010, after suffering another horrific oil incident—this one almost 20 times! larger than the Exxon Valdez spill—the question for national energy law and policy is whether, this time around, we’ll acknowledge and implement the hard systemic lessons largely avoided two decades ago. The Deepwater Horizon blowout will be a doubly disastrous occasion if it doesn’t produce systemic changes for the future, as the Exxon Valdez markedly failed to do. The Obama Administration’s Gulf of Mexico BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Commission, like the Alaska Commission set up after the Exxon Valdez spill, is trying to harvest conclusions about causation—”why did this calamity happen?”—and about necessary fundamental changes in how we manage the extraction and transport of oil for the future. The BP Deepwater blowout spill and the Exxon Valdez experience are instructive both in their similarities and in their differences.